Replacing the Federation Cup this season, AIFF’s Super Cup has already had its fair share of criticism. The tournament, which has a knockout format will be played between 16 teams, the top 6 teams from both the Indian Super League and I-League gaining automatic qualification to the tournament. The remaining eight teams from both the leagues go through a playoff round to determine which teams will occupy the remaining four spots. Being a knockout tournament, there is absolutely no margin for error for the teams involved if they are to reach the final.
However, some of the backlash the tournament has received has been over scheduling of the matches, kick-off timings and lack of clarity regarding the format of the tournament from when it was conceived to what the final product has turned out to be. Here are five reasons why the Super Cup needs a structural overhaul to make it more relevant to the Indian football calendar.
The Super Cup needs to run parallel to the domestic first division football league – The most glaring chink in the scheduling of the tournament is the considerable gap between the end of both the ISL and I-League and the start of the Super Cup. With almost a month between the two tournaments, Minerva Punjab FC owner Ranjit Bajaj had expressed concerns over the logic of clubs being made to pay the salaries of their players for an additional two months at the risk of only playing one match in that period in the event of a first round exit. The sentiment was echoed by representatives of both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, and if the tournament wants to be India’s knockout competition, a scenario where it runs parallel to the ISL is in the general interest of all parties involved.
Participation for all first division teams dilutes the importance of the tournament – Then again, if the Super Cup wants to be held in its current format (i.e. after the end of both domestic first division football leagues), a cap on the number of teams participating in it is a must. Bajaj, owner of I-League champions Minerva Punjab FC said, “It is very unfair that the tournament is not being held in the round robin format. Moreover only eight teams should have been allowed to participate. The top four teams from I-League and ISL. They are giving a chance to everyone to play in the Super Cup. So, then how it is a Super Cup? It has become a ‘Everybody Cup’. Without a limited number of teams, the Super Cup is essentially just reduced to a tournament of the same ilk as the I-League or ISL but in a completely different format.
Kick off-times and venues will affect the quality of football on display – Between March 31st and April 22nd 2018 (the duration of the final round of the Super Cup), temperatures in a venue like Bhubaneshwar will soar and many of the matches have afternoon kick-off times. This directly impacts the quality of the football on display as players get fatigued much quicker and the games will be far from as exciting as they could be. Evening kick off times will ensure that the quality of the football remains high, and spectators have more incentive to come out in numbers and fill the stands in the stadium.
The incentive for winning the tournament is not high – The Super Cup’s previous avatar (the Federation Cup) involved, aside from a cash prize for the winning team, a qualification slot for the AFC Cup, Asia’s tier two continental competition behind the AFC Champions League. However, that is not the case for the Super Cup in its current form. With many teams not having much to play for, some having released players, motivation levels for playing the tournament are varied for all teams. While the likes of Bengaluru FC will be desperate to have something to show for what has been a truly marvelous season for them (excluding the loss in the ISL final to Chennaiyin FC), the same cannot be said as emphatically for the other teams involved. There simply needs to be more of an incentive for the teams participating in the tournament.
Clubs across all divisions must be included – The tournament, which is intended to be modeled on domestic cup competitions like the FA Cup in England and DFB Pokal in Germany must also include second division Indian clubs to have a shot at playing against the biggest teams in Indian football. The concept of such a competition originates in the premise that all clubs that are affiliated to the national football body should have a platform to showcase their progress against a club from a higher division, something which is not possible in the season long first and second divisions. If that happens, then giant-killing acts of clubs from lower leagues beating clubs from higher leagues would not be uncommon, and also create a much required buzz around the tournament.